"The Shape We're In": Is the Sun Setting on 'Big Food's' Glory Days?

The sun may be setting on Big Food's glory days. Sales of sugary cereals are declining, purchases of soft drinks have been sagging for some time, efforts to persuade consumers that companies like PepsiCo are committed to public health issues have faltered, and "virtuous fast foods" are making tentative but promising inroads. Of course, much more needs to change but these and other shifts are causing grumbling in the boardrooms of Junk Food Inc.

The industry's basic position for a long time has been that it responds to demand; it doesn't create it. Millions of individuals, making myriad choices everyday, send innumerable signals regarding the food, drink, and products that they prefer. Industries react to such signals sent by consumers' preferences by endeavouring to make and promote items leading to a successful market among a competitive array of choices. This position is abetted by the notion of "consumer sovereignty": rational, informed persons who weigh the costs and the benefits of their actions should be free to eat, drink, gamble, smoke, and to do goodness knows what else as they so choose, bearing the various costs that may ensue.

In sharp contrast critics insist that the industry not only reacts to demand but also creates it.

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